Spring!

Since I last posted, winter has ended and spring has sprung!  As usual, we have been keeping happily busy. Tim’s rowing season is well under way, and I’ve been having fun with my recorders, and our daughter Riva visited, as well as my sister Marilyn from California! And, we have also gotten some work done on the house itself.

After my last post, we had even more snow! As of April 1:

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The snow gradually melted, till this was all that was left of the mountain above as of 4/25:

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Ten days earlier the first colt’s foot was blooming (see below), the pulmonaria opened its first flowers, and the crumpled rhubarb leaves were beginning to appear, all welcome signs of spring coming even while the snow was still hanging around!

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Meanwhile, our electrician Tom Root came and pretty much finished the wiring, so the extension cords could disappear, we got live plugs, and the first few lighting fixtures! Tim also installed a flat screen (bottom of photo below; on the back side of the stove, it faces the south windows) so we can enjoy movies from time to time.

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In May Tim fashioned temporary counters and shelves, and we moved our kitchen operation from the mud room to what will be our real kitchen! Great to have everything in one place!

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(Below, the refrigerator is just out of view on the right.)

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And ceiling mounted down-lights illuminating the counters!

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We also got to work on the outside of the house.  In May we painted the rest of the boards and battens and finished the lower south side, and as of a couple of days ago we turned the corner and are partly done with the west side of the south “bay”. It is surprising how much time it takes for the measuring, spacing, nailing, screwing, and getting each board plumb…  We now have our “system” down and are enjoying great satisfaction in working together!

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Meanwhile, the trees leafed out (leaf buds were just swelling at the end of April), and we enjoyed more beautiful early spring flowers like the trout lilies and forget me nots (see below) followed by apple trees and lilacs blooming, and the first Jack-in-the-pulpits.

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In late April we moved the 24 additional straw bales we had left in the basement, and tripled the size of our straw bale vegetable garden for this year. We can re-use the 12 bales from last year (those are the dark bales at the far end in the right hand photo below), and started conditioning the new bales. We started lots of vegetables indoors, and have just finished planting everything out in the last few days.

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Above, you can see a wooden “box” at the lower left, with potatoes. Beyond that in the ground are  some our tomato plants — we planted 18, of nine different varieties!! At the far corner are two kinds of peas – the first seeds we planted, in the old bales. The horizontal boards above the bales are for tying up tomatoes, beans and cucumbers. And you can see the nice electric fence (and gate) that Tim put up. So far we are not having problems with deer or rodents, but there are some mighty fine slugs around, and the fence is no deterrent to them!

At the end of April we took a day off to participate in the Climate Day Rally in Montpelier, and in May we got up really early one morning to see around 30-some hot air balloons go up in Post Mills, a nearby small town!

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Also at the end of April, we had our big piles of wood scraps (from the logging and milling) turned into wood chips!

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This was an exciting process that Tim and I helped with (a little).  It is great to have those big piles of slash gone. And it is a good thing to now have a mountain of wood chips for mulching! My perennial garden is coming along nicely, with many additions (a couple of plant sales and some wonderfully generous friends!), and I’ll make good use of the wood chips!  I promise some pictures in the future… But for now, here is the first iris blooming. I was given this plant by my relatives in Bethel from the bunch growing outside their house.

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Happy summer!

Snow, melt, and more snow!

Again, not much visible house progress, just more planning to figure out where we want lights, outlets etc., which is more complicated than it might seem.  In between, it seems like we kept busy shoveling snow!

We had accumulated some snow on the ground, then we had a warm spell and a lot melted, but then it froze again. Then we had several snowfalls that added up, then 8 to 10 inches more. Some places around our house had two feet or more accumulated! We also learned the hard way about how much snow comes down off our roof! Here are some pictures…

February 10:

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February 13 — MORE snow!

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So much snow came off the roof right next to the tent “garage” that we had to shovel that out. Very soon the pile was so high, Tim resorted to shoveling snow into the wheel barrow and taking it up the driveway, where he needed a ramp to get it over the pile left by the snowplow clearing our driveway!

Tim is 6’5″…

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The next day we had more snow…

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You get the idea!

Then we had another warm spell, enough to make the roads muddy (a harbinger of mud season). By March 6 lots of snow had melted, but we still had nearly 2 feet accumulated in some places, bare ground in a few places. But we had enough snow and perfect weather to (legally) burn a couple of the slash piles that are too far from the driveway to move anywhere. It took all day (and they were still smoldering that night), and was pretty fun!  It took awhile to get the fire burning, and then it really roared! There are still unburnt logs, but this pile is greatly reduced:

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In the meantime, Tim helped a friend with maple sugaring so he could learn more about doing it. The sap runs when it goes below freezing at night, followed by above freezing temperatures during the day, but stops if it stays below freezing or above freezing all day and all night. So the sap run can start and stop multiple times during a season. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup. We might tap our row of maples next year…

Also, we had the annual Town Meeting. It is all day the first Tuesday in March in many Vermont towns and the custom goes way back. Ours takes place in the beautiful Strafford Town House, built in 1799. Amazing to think of all the town meetings that have been held there!  People are voted into office, the budget is passed, and other motions discussed and voted on. Very local! This year Tim was elected as one of the three Listers for Strafford, who as a group are responsible for approving the “Grand List,” which quantifies the fair market value of every parcel of real property in the town, that in conjunction with the tax rate, determines how much local tax one pays to support the town and local schools.  The PTA oversees a fantastic lunch buffet as a fund raiser. In the afternoon is the School Board meeting.

Along the way, dinners with friends, birthday cake with the small knitting group that meets at the upper village Post Office(!), work at the library, and preparing presentations for our local Cabin Fever University (one on cake decorating, one on straw bale building) coming up soon.

Another week went by, and then we had the nor’easter winter storm Stella. We didn’t get nearly as much snow as some places, but it was enough! Fourteen inches! We went out in the afternoon to do some shoveling and remove snow from the woodshed roof before it got too deep and heavy (we have a piece of plastic over most of the wood).

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The next morning (3/15) it looked like this:

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Even though the winter snow means shoveling (and I didn’t mention digging the car out!), I still love it!  However, I will enjoy spring when it comes… and our seed order just came in!

 

Winter Report

As usual, I can’t quite believe how long it has been since I’ve posted. One reason is that we have not been working very much on the house! Holidays, trip to Michigan to visit our daughter and son-in-law over New Year’s weekend, I participated in the Women’s March in D.C., we had colds, we have hibernated some! And as usual, we have enjoyed some good times with friends here as well as good books, some snow-shoeing, I have been making music, and Tim has been rowing (on the ERG machine), etc.

So, after the last post, we did more work on the exterior before the weather got really cold, including moving all the remaining lumber under cover (most into the tent shelter). We needed to repair all the remaining slits in the tar paper (the slits were from when the insulation was blown in).

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Above is the west wall. You can see one repair above the window on the left. I cut pieces of tar paper and handed them up to Tim to slide under the flaps and nail down.

Tim made and we installed the window trim on the lower part of the south side:

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Yes, this is 11/30 and that is snow on the ground that had slid off the roof a couple of days earlier. We also fixed more tar paper after some more snow a few days later!

Then we had a few “warm” days so we put up more board and battens on this south wall. Had to be above 40 degrees for painting…

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We managed to finish from the door to the southeast corner, including painting!

Friends here had a wreath-making party, so we had a lovely wreath to get ready for Christmas:

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Our beautiful house is kind of like a movie set — looks great from the front, but the rest is tar paper!

We are learning more about living with winter here, after last year’s unusually warm and almost snow-less winter. This year we have had small amounts of snow periodically, but with some melting in between so lots of ice underneath. We have kept our car up by the “lumber yard” because of the ice, and are learning when we need to have the lane sanded, and it only gets plowed when 4 inches or more of snow. We learned the hard way to do any shoveling as soon as possible after the snow stops – it is much easier than later! We rarely go out without our “stable-icers” – a kind of stretchy rubber network with cleats on the bottom that fits over one’s boots and is very effective to keep you from slipping. Tim built a good roof for our wood pile, and we also got a big wood rack for the front porch. Last fall at a yard sale we acquired a purple plastic toboggan. The day before Christmas we went sliding on our neighbor’s hillside! Since then it has proven very useful for hauling firewood (from the wood pile to the front porch), groceries and laundry down the driveway, like this!

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And more snow. Each snow seems different. Some is light and fluffy, sometimes the flakes are huge, other times very small. Often the snow sticks to all the tree limbs like this:

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Beautiful! (this was January 18).

The last few days Tim has been working on the stud wall that goes between the second floor and the south shed roof. This wall has to be constructed before we can have our electrician come to do the interior wiring. We also wanted to have a way to move warm air from the south room (where the wood stove and the mini-split are) to our future bedroom back in the northwest corner. Tim figured out how to use a couple of computer fans and some “custom” duct work to accomplish this, another detail to be done in conjunction with this stud wall. It will also have an opening with sliding doors so when we want to have more heat upstairs, we can have it!

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Tim constructed the stud wall in several sections on the second floor, then “manhandled” it into place. Below is a view from downstairs after installation:

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The rectangular opening centered between the lower braces is where the sliding doors will go. We have put plastic up behind it because sometimes we get more heat upstairs than we want.

While it will be a long time yet till Spring, I have been enjoying wonderful house plants! Some I brought from home, others are from cuttings friends have given me. And we had poinsettias for Christmas (a local PTA fundraiser), plus I am now babysitting some plants for our neighbor while she is away.

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I love having blooming geraniums during the winter!

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And here is my favorite special one – white with pink speckles!

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I hope you all are enjoying the winter!

Clapboards and Boards & Battens

Well, putting up clapboards of course took longer than we had hoped — what else is new!  But we are pleased with our progress and the final results, even though we did not get as far as we had hoped by now.

I will never look at a house with clapboards the same way again!  I didn’t know anything about the process, and thought you’d be interested, so there is quite a lot of detail in this post.

First of all, the spacing. We learned some things about spacing the strapping that will make our lives easier on the next wall, and maybe have fewer clapboards that have to be cut to length. Even more significant is the spacing of the clapboards vertically, what is called the “reveal.” For example, if you want to have the bottom (thick) edge of the clapboard go cleanly across the top of a window or door, you have to figure out the reveal spacing ahead of time. You can vary the amount of reveal within limits, but you don’t want to change it more than one eighth of an inch at a time. Of course, we didn’t plan the window spacing in either direction to accommodate clapboards (no one does!). And you have to make sure your clapboards stay “exactly” horizontal as you put up each course. Each board has to be measured and cut to length (sometimes to an angle to accommodate roof lines). Every cut end has to be painted with primer. Where two ends butt up, a spline is needed — a strip of tar paper nailed up behind the joint. My job was to figure out where the joints should be (you don’t want those joints to be right above each other), to cut each clapboard (with the chop saw) precisely to length, paint the ends, and hand up the board to Tim (along with anything else needed). He used a “story stick” to figure out what the reveal spacing should be on each course, measured the length each board should be, nailed it up in the right place and level. These boards require nailing every 12 inches, and you have to hammer by hand as a nail gun will shoot the nail all the way through the clapboard.  At the end, it is a good idea to fill the “cracks” where the ends butt up so water can’t get in. And then it is time to paint. Whew!  One by one we got the job done!  Here are some photos:

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These are the pre-primed clapboards for the entire house, in our “garage” tent. They come bundled and in lengths from 6 feet down to 2 feet.

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Here is Tim nailing in one of the clapboards that had to be specially cut out to fit around the porch roof beam. The spacing to the left of the window was carefully worked out so the board he is nailing fits perfectly across the top of the window trim.

We could only reach so far up with our stepladders, but new friends here were willing to loan us scaffolding and pump jacks, for which we are very grateful. Those allowed us (well, Tim!) to continue working up the height of the house. Here it is partly up:

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The 4 “poles” are doubled 2×4’s that sit on the ground. Up just under the roof (you can’t see here) are double brackets that screw into the house (the wood sheathing that is under the tar paper). On the right you can see the scaffold on one side. It is held up by a bracket on each pole that you can pump up or down with the foot pump. Very ingenious, kind of rough, though!

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Above is Tim raising the scaffold by pumping the jack. The pump jack is designed so that the weight increases the friction on the pole, and it can only move a short distance at a time.

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Getting the scaffold platform moved sideways to get around the edge of the porch roof was a challenge! I used a long plank of wood to push up the far end from below, and Tim on the roof pushed from his end. Then we added the diagonal braces for stability.

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Progress!

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Scaffolding even higher! The diagonal boards inside the gable are nailers for the frieze board trim. I don’t like heights at all — thank you Tim for doing all the up high work!

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Tim is installing soffits, in this case (already painted) V-groove boards cut to length, one at a time. On the right you can see the pump jack, up as close as can be to the brackets that hold the pole to the house. One goes straight toward the house, the other is longer and movable so you can put it where you want, at an angle. Tim had to omit some clapboards to accommodate those brackets. The rope you see was so he could haul some items up (or down) in a bucket.

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With the scaffold up high, each time Tim went up (or down) he had to crawl under those brackets — not fun!

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Starting to paint while we still had the scaffolding. We also needed the weather to be above 40 degrees… He also added the frieze boards after this photo was taken.

Next job was installing soffits and soffit vents under the eaves. The frieze board on the right helps hold up the upper panel:

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I got up on the scaffold (see proof below!) to help hold up the plywood panels for Tim to nail.

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Tim got enough of the high up area painted (opaque stain) so we can finish the rest from ladders, and then we took down the scaffolding!

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Here the scaffolding is just down!  The poles are lying on the ground, the brackets still on them. The yellow  tarp in the center is covering the chop saw.

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We added the last missing clapboards, and painted like crazy (which actually took less time than expected). The little tan smudges are from filling the cracks between clapboard ends — gives an idea of how many butt joints there are!

With a few more days of “warm” and non-rainy weather before the first predicted winter storm warning, we got right to work on the reverse board and batten for the south part of the house — to go over the tar paper you see on the left in the photo above.

The boards and battens are rough cut hemlock (local, but not from our trees), and had to be primed on the back. I did most of that while Tim was working on trim etc. that I couldn’t really help with.

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Using a roller made the painting go pretty fast…

Many old barns etc. are covered in board and batten, where the board is against the wall and the battens cover the small spaces between the boards. We are doing reverse board and batten with the battens against the wall and the boards just overlapping the battens on each side. This provides for an air channel behind the boards, similar to the air channel behind clapboards (between the strapping). However, the combined thickness of the boards and battens is greater than the clapboards plus strapping, so we had to figure out extra blocking around the window so the window trim would be at least even with the board and batten surface. Here is our first window:

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We started under the window, after checking to see how the boards would come out around the window and at the two ends of the walls, and this seemed the best plan. We put up these battens, then painted with the opaque stain. The tricky part is the spacing. Since the boards are rough, they vary a little in width. At the same time you want them to overlap the battens by at least 1/2 inch, but you want to keep the space between the boards pretty much the same.  And, the battens should be truly vertical, and sometimes they are not that straight. So we are having to figure out how best to get this done. Interesting!

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With the window trim on, Tim is now putting up the first few boards. They get screwed in, and we found it worked well to start all the screws first, then put it up. We also tried painting the edges of the boards before putting them up, but it gets very messy, so that plan will likely change.

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We put up the longer battens and boards, including the cut-out board around the window, discovering in the process that the 6 foot level is not accurate enough. We have to use a plumb line to get the battens truly vertical. We had to experiment with how to judge the spacing. So this was our learning curve.

We worked like crazy while we still had daylight, because rain and snow were coming in that night. We got some more boards and battens up, and even got them painted! And we also had to put lots of stuff under serious cover, ie, “batten down the hatches”. Tim even put our snow tires on after dark!

Here’s what our house looked like the next morning (11/20), with snow coming down (we got a couple of inches or so):

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We are very excited to see our house looking so nice!

As you can see, we are deep into stick season here.  But first we had the last of color –russet oaks and golden larches.

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The beautiful colors of the red oak leaves, before they turn brown and drop.

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Here are two of the larches (also known as tamaracks) at the top of our driveway. The front one is still turning golden, while the one to the left shows the later, orangy color. Then they lose their needles, as the larch is a deciduous conifer. These are the last trees to turn color in the fall.

There are still beeches and oaks with some brown leaves in the woods, but looking across the hills the landscape is grey branches, dark grey-green pines and hemlocks, ready for the transformation of snow!

We are now having colder weather, below freezing most nights, highs mostly in the thirties. We are hoping for a few more days we can work outside and at least finish that one board and batten wall! The rest of the house will be in tar paper for another year…

We are happy and healthy, and continuing to thoroughly enjoy being here in Vermont. We wish each of you a wonderful Thanksgiving!

 

Alaska and a Front Porch!

Right after I posted the last time, Tim and I left for a week and a half trip to Alaska, to visit our son Ethan and see the sights!  While Alaskans complained that it had been raining for weeks, we were lucky and had rain only the first 2 days. We thoroughly enjoyed the convenience of our rented RV. Besides a wonderful visit with Ethan in Homer, and a fantastic dinner at the Two Sisters Bakery (where he works), we enjoyed a helicopter ride to a glacier (thanks to a friend who made that possible), great views of Denali, some hiking, a day of sea kayaking, several museums, and most of a day at the Alaska Native Heritage Center that was very interesting and not to be missed. Below are a few photos:

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Tim and Susan on a glacier east of Denali National Park.

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Tim’s beautiful photo of Denali “the Great One” in the morning.

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Fabulous flowers everywhere in Anchorage. Note the use of rainbow chard in this bed!

Back home, we got right back to work on the front porch.  It was more complicated than I had imagined. You have to figure out how the porch will attach securely to the house, the angle of the roof, how to keep water from going to places it shouldn’t, etc.  First, Tim got the corner posts up:

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Next, the rafters and the decking for the roof. Tim trimmed the inside edges of the boards so it looks like V-groove, plus the white primer makes the inside nice and light! Later he added flashing, roofing membrane and shingles, and some of the trim.

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Another job was the floor construction. We put landscaping fabric  and gravel under the porch to discourage weeds. The black tape should protect the wood from moisture.

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Finally, the floor decking itself, including a grate in front of the door for scraping mud and ice off shoes and boots!

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The next big project is putting the clapboards on the house. There are a number of things that must be done in preparation. Won’t go into detail about all of them, but the big one is getting the strapping–thin strips of wood– on the house (which creates an air space behind the clapboards).

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The white board at the bottom is the “water table”. Behind it is a long strip of Cor-A-Vent, a product that looks like corrugated (plastic) cardboard that allows for ventilation of the air space between the strapping boards. You can also see it (black strips) above and below the windows.  We used a jig that we made to get the strapping evenly spaced (and vertical) so the clapboards can be nailed every 12 inches. You need some extra strips around the windows to support the trim and the ends of the clapboard that will butt up against the trim.

Tim and I had to decide just how we wanted the trim around the front door and its windows to look, then Tim made the trim for these and the other windows on the east wall. Tim also put up the corner boards — a real one on the northeast corner, and a “fake” one where the clapboards will stop for vertical reverse board and batten siding around the south gable. So, other than some trim that is not yet put on, here’s what the front door looks like now!

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And here you can see the trim around two of the other windows, and the corner boards up. Soon we’ll get strapping up over the rest of the area above the porch roof.

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Today, however, we started putting on clapboards!  Quite a few technical issues to solve, but we soon got in the groove. The clapboards come in lengths from 6 feet down to 2 feet. You have to figure out the placement so where the boards meet end to end is staggered. Then cut to size (so every end of a board is on a piece of strapping), and nailed on (LOTS of nails!). Very exciting! Here’s what we got done by the end of the day:

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We purchased the clapboards already primed. We plan to eventually paint the clapboards a light sage green.

Meanwhile, fall is well along. We’ve had several frosts, and our straw bale vegetable garden is pretty much done, but we got some great food from it! And we have enjoyed wonderful fall foliage this year. These trees are very near our house:

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Below is the hillside above our neighbor’s house, a little further up Morrill Mountain from where we are:

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And every day we see leaves like these on the driveway:

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But, the leaves are coming down fast, so pretty soon we’ll be in “stick season” — the time between the fall colors and snow. As always, we are loving Vermont!  Until next time…

We are still here!

We’ve been happy and busy and enjoying the summer, and I haven’t written for a long time! Yikes!

We haven’t done much work on the house this summer, because we’ve been keeping busy otherwise. Tim had a scientific paper he had to rewrite (with additional material), which took MUCH longer than expected, which he just submitted (whew!). He’s also been rowing this summer. This has meant he’s been getting up at 4:30 AM 4-5 mornings each week (I usually sleep in!), and the rowing has been challenging with the excellent rowing club here. Right now he is competing in the Masters Nationals down in Worcester, MA. His boat (a 4 I think) got third in their race yesterday!  Meanwhile I’ve been enjoying some music — a wonderful teacher started giving recorder lessons in the next town over!  Besides lessons, I’ve been playing in the Intermediate Recorder Ensemble which has been wonderful!  In addition to the alto, I got myself a tenor recorder; I’m learning a lot and getting much better, which is very satisfying.  I also volunteer each week at the local library. And, we have our straw bale garden plus a work share at a local CSA, which means we go and work a couple of hours each week. I also walk a lot, often with another friend or two.

Our house stays wonderfully comfortable even though we’ve had some “Georgia” weather the last couple of weeks — fairly hot for Vermont and more humid than usual.

Despite rowing and the paper Tim got started on the front porch. Once that is constructed we’ll do all the trim around the windows etc. (lumber must be cut to size and painted), then we’ll put on the clapboards (which were delivered last week).  Here are some photos:

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Tim dug big holes for the footings (had to dig out quite a pile of boulders for one of the holes), mixed and poured the concrete, etc.  This involved careful measuring to get the footings in just the right position, then more careful measuring and cutting for these first boards. The porch will have a peaked roof over the door, and will be wide enough for us to sit on and store some firewood, too.

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To give us a place to work under cover, we put up a garage-sized shelter tent. Putting up the frame of the tent was interesting! This gives you some idea of the size. It will be great to have this shelter for cutting and painting the trim. Next time I’ll have a better photo of it up with its cover on.

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Exciting to have the clapboards arrive! They are already primed, which will save us some work.

The bale garden has grown well. We have finished the broccoli, and are enjoying kale, snow peas, peppers, tomatoes, and pole beans as well. It has been a great experiment! Here are some photos — the first from early June, the second from July 21:

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The CSA has been wonderful too. A high point was helping to harvest garlic scapes!  The scapes are the flower buds of the garlic, and need to be picked in order for the garlic bulb to get big. Though the season is short, scapes are a delicacy around here! They have somewhat mild garlic flavor and they are very elegant-looking:

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This dinner plate has a bunch of about 20 scapes. We made several batches of delicious scape/basil pesto.

In addition to all of the above, we enjoyed a super family reunion in the Rocky Mountains in June.  About 25 of us were in 3 “rustic cabins” up a mountain (about 8000 feet altitude!) from the main YMCA facility in Estes Park, CO. Plenty of hiking, trail riding, etc. and we all cooked together. So much fun and great memories! And, we had tables out doors for dinners, with an amazing view:

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Not long after we returned we enjoyed Strafford’s 4th of July!  A parade twice around the Green (which reminded me a lot of the parade in Green Acres, in Athens, GA), with a Kazoo band, lawn chair brigade, antique tractors, fire engine, etc., then lots of activities for kids on the green (a PTA fundraiser). Very “down home”!

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Late in the day was the famous chicken barbecue with home made pies, a very popular fundraiser for the volunteer fire department. Finally, the evening entertainment in the Town House was a Strafford version of A Prairie Home Companion that was hilarious!

I’ve planted some perennials, and look forward to many years of fun gardening!  We also planted 5 black currant bush “rootlings,” a gift from our neighbor. Here are some other flowers:

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The hummingbird feeder, with bee balm, zinnias and portulaca, is outside our south windows.

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The small pink flower cluster on the left is Queen of the Prairie; I’ll be transplanting some of it closer to the house, I think!

It’s been a hot, fairly dry summer, and the wildflowers have been thriving.  Lots of black-eyed Susans, clover, huge Queen Anne’s Lace (see below), and many others wildflowers still blooming, and now the various golden-rods are also coming out.  Fall will be here soon!

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We are happy to see quite a lot of honey bees, which we didn’t see last  year, and we’ve even seen bats a couple of times, for the first time in several years. And, I don’t have a photo, but every couple of days 2 wild turkeys with 5 chicks all together have paraded through our “yard” — very funny to watch!

Next week we are off to Alaska for a visit!   When we come back we’ll be going full steam ahead to get the porch, trim and siding finished before the weather gets too cold.

We are so happy to be living here!  Happy end of summer!

 

 

Progress…

In the last month, Spring has really arrived, at least coming and going! Buds on the maple trees, followed by snow a few days later (April 26)– Spring in VT…

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Within a couple of days the snow was gone and more spring flowers were appearing, including daffodils, trout lily and red trillium (also called wake robin):

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We started getting more warm sunny days, and started preparing some of our extra bales for gardening. This involved adding a nitrogen source to the top surface and watering in, multiple times over a couple of weeks, to start the straw breaking down.

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Then we covered them with plastic after each fertilizing/watering to hold in the heat and encourage decomposition. As of 5/23 they were ready for planting! Yay! the beginning of our first Vermont vegetable garden. Kale, broccoli & parsley seedlings in the ground, oops, in the bales! Snow peas and beet seeds planted. More to come!

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With the better weather we also made progress on patching the tar paper which had been cut s0 the cellulose insulation (outside the bales) could be blown in.

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Our next project was preparing for our excavator to come and contour the land around the house to improve water drainage and be ready for landscaping. First, we had to move a bunch of lumber that had been stacked on the south side of the house, and collect all the piles of “off-cuts” and burn them.

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Eric Thorpe, our excavator, with his son EJ, contoured the land around the house, and added a retaining wall on the west side. I didn’t get great photos, but I think you can get an idea (and you can see how the maples are leafing out as of May 18!). On the right, Eric moved these boulders, which are seat height. They are  off the south side (next to a patio some day??). The plants you see on the right (mostly tomatoes, too early to plant in the ground) are just outside the south door.

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Above, you can see how the excavator was used to move the huge concrete blocks into place. The blocks are made from “waste” concrete left over after a pour, with two rings set into the top so the excavator, with a chain and a hooks, can pick them up. Tim and EJ looked at how they fit, and if they were straight and level, while Eric could “nudge” them into place with the excavator. There is gravel below, and behind the wall there is a drain pipe, then the gap was filled in with gravel, sand and soil.

Overall, the result was we now have even more exposed soil, including some pretty steep slopes. So we spent a good part of 2 days planting “conservation mix” (a combination of several kinds of grasses plus clover) on the most sloped areas to help hold the soil, and then covered with chopped straw we had left over from doing the bale walls. Here’s some of what it looks like now:

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This sloping bank will be a wonderful place for many perennials. In fact, we got several kinds of irises and some lupine at the plant sale last Saturday (a fundraiser for the local PTA), including this miniature iris (the bloom is only around 1 inch across):

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Yesterday was a little cloudy, but you can see how the trees have leafed out in the last week!  The tall trees are our sugar maples, and you can just see the curve of Morrill Mountain in the distance.

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Meanwhile, around our place the Jack in the Pulpits are popping up, and the Golden Alexander is just starting to bloom:

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We are continuing to enjoy ourselves, and love living here!